You won’t find much about hockey in this blog but rather some words of wisdom that may save you the pain we have endured over the last 24 hours.
I hope you all are as lucky as I am to have found a special someone who not only humors your passions in life but truly shares in them as well. Much to my surprise, my bride of more than 10 years suggested that we take a much needed vacation this fall, a vacation to Stockholm to see a once in a lifetime experience as she called it, our St. Louis Blues taking on the arch enemy Detroit Red Wings. Little did we know that that this vacation would become once in a lifetime for more than the obvious reasons.
Due to work and personal time constraints, I handed all of our travel plans over to a travel agent, something I will not ever do again. Let me share with you some of the things I have learned.
Our trip began innocently enough with a flight from St. Louis to Minneapolis. Can someone please explain why airlines insist on flying you away from your ultimate destination? Unfortunately, our flight from St. Louis was delayed due to wind in Minneapolis. It was only delayed about 75 minutes and we were assured that we would be able to make our international flight even with the delay. Unfortunately, the people at the gate did not account for the 15 minute tarmac delay upon arrival and the fact that it would take an hour to get to the other end of the airport for our international gate. Upon discussing our situation with our original flight partner, we discovered that our wonderful travel agent had booked multiple stand alone tickets, essentially stranding us at the airport as the original carrier satisfied their responsibility by getting us to Minneapolis with a delay that was out of their control (weather). Our international carrier was not even around to discuss the matter with us upon our arrival as the agents had gone home though we would later learn that would be irrelevant because they had no skin in the game because it was not their fault that we missed our flights. Essentially, everyone accurately stated that it was not their fault and that we were on our own. Further complicating the issue, we learned that our international carrier did not have any flights out at all the next day and that we would have to wait TWO days to resume our trip. Given our purpose for heading over and the prospect of missing many of the events, this would not be acceptable. Ironically, we were now further from our destination and had fewer options than if we had missed our original flight entirely, not to mention in a city without a hotel reservation.
We tried reaching the international carrier via phone, working with our late arriving domestic carrier and travel agent, all with little to no success. Around 10 PM, I decided we would take the early morning flight to Boston as our international carrier did have a flight out of Boston the next day. We boarded our 6:45 AM flight off to Boston, not knowing if our travel agent was able to switch our international flights or not but if we wanted to make the games, we needed to head to Boston. Upon arriving in Boston and speaking with our travel agent, we learned that she had gotten no further than our conversation with our local carrier. As a result of the wind factor and her poor planning, we are now out one day of our European vacation, $2,000 to book the additional flights to Boston and to switch the international flights, and countless blood pressure points.
Here are some travel tips I have gleaned through this misadventure. When travelling through multiple cities, please be aware of the following considerations:
1) Know what gates various airlines leave out of so that you can assess what terminals you will likely arrive and depart from, how long it normally takes to change terminals, etc. and factor this into your plane schedule (even if our original flight was on time, I am not certain we would have made the flight). If you have not been to Minneapolis, they have two terminals and landing on the far side of one and having to take two trains and walk what feels like miles to get to the departing terminal is not something that can be done in an hour, much less the 5 minutes we had.
2) Make sure to book all of your tickets through the same carrier. We could have booked the entire leg through our local carrier as they all have partnership agreements with other airlines. This puts the entire ticket with one carrier and allows them a lot more flexibility and desire to get you to where you ultimately need to be, not just where their ticket says. Our travel agent was penny wise and pound foolish. This likely would have been a couple hundred more as the local carrier will up charge the other ticket but it would have saved us a day of our trip and $2,000. Remember, don’t be penny wise and pound foolish by focusing only on the cost of the ticket. Make sure to consider the logistics, convenience and ease that you will ultimately have by using the same carrier and allowing for more time.
3) If you do not book all of your tickets through one source, make sure you allow extra time between flights for just the circumstance we are in. Believe me I would rather be sitting and people watching for three hours than running around trying to find another flight.
4) Take your travel agent to task during the planning of the trip. If you are not liking the response you are getting, move on to another agent or do it yourself. I have learned that my travel agent knows little more than I do, a scary proposition given our dependence on the agent.
5) When delayed and at risk of missing your connecting flight, know your options because you might consider foregoing your original flight, especially if it takes you further from your destination like ours did.
6) We bought travel insurance but I am concerned that the very way the flights were arranged will cause our claim to be denied. I presumed my agent had booked the flights to work with our travel insurance. This might have been a very poor assumption, one that will cause a very unhappy conversation with our agent. Be aware of the limitations and make sure your flight plan meets the requirements.
7) Know who is responsible for your bags if you do opt to go with more than one carrier. We had been told that our bags would be checked straight through to Stockholm which turned out not to be true. In some ways, it was a blessing they weren’t as we were able to retrieve them, not letting them sit all alone and unattended in a foreign land. On the other hand, it is a pain in the rear to lug around multiple bags while you wait hours and hours for a ticketing agent to show up for work.
I’ll blog more from Sweden, even regarding hockey I promise, assuming we can make it there and will try to share some photos. Unfortunately, this is not the first time we have had international travel like this. Maybe we are cursed, much like the Blues in their quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup. Here’s to hoping we both end our curses this year. Lord knows that this trip has been a struggle so far but as I sit here writing this blog during our 12 hour layover in Logan National Airport, I can’t help but smile as I look across the table at my wonderful bride and think how I wouldn’t want to be on this roller coaster we call life with anyone else. Somehow I just know that this trip will improve and that our Team will pull out at least one victory.
As always, it's a great day for hockey, I just hope we make it to Sweden to see the games.